We talk a lot about delivering value at our organization, and we do a great job of putting that into practice. However, there is a step that occurs beforehand that allows us to even get to that point: creating those opportunities. A business thrives only when it has a rich resource of opportunities from which the desire for its products and services springs. This vital component, also known as the sales process, deserves its own analysis regarding what makes clients want to give us the opportunity to address their needs, and then come back for more.
In our organization, we have salespeople who go out and find our opportunities. They put pen to paper and encourage clients to sign with us by getting them excited about the possibilities that we can create for them. Then, that contract is turned over to our delivery team, which is tasked with the responsibility of delivering the value that was promised. The value they deliver must be grounded in what the salespeople originally contracted with them to do, and to the extent that it’s not, we must modify the contract. In other words, we do what we said we were going to do, and if it seems that we are not, we fix it by changing what we are doing, or by changing the contract. This paper describes the process of creating opportunities that can be passed along for actual execution in the organization.
How Do We Create Opportunity?
The best salespeople present the most well-defined opportunities time and time again. These are the individuals who consistently feed the work that sustains our companies—meaning that they provide the delivery team with opportunities to satisfy our clients. No business can deliver great value without having a plethora of opportunities to do so. In analyzing what comprises the sales techniques of our organization’s stellar performers, I’ve extracted two components that inform their process:
1. “Getting” the client. In many businesses, “getting” the client is viewed as some form of trickery in which salespeople convince clients to “do a deal” and then race off to “get” the next chump. In a high-integrity business, however, “getting” the client has a more esoteric and valuable meaning. At ITX, “getting” clients means not only that we understand them—it’s way beyond that—but that we actually alter our own view until we are seeing and thinking like the client. In order to get our clients’ view, we have to understand the concerns and constraints that shape their perspective. This metamorphosis that our best salespeople experience shows authenticity instead of showmanship. Our delivery team backs this up by providing real value instead of empty promises. This genuine way of interacting inspires prospective and repeat clients to do business with us.
We’ve all had the experience of having a conversation with someone who we know doesn’t get us. It’s like talking to a wall. Think cocktail parties, where you’re never going to see “these people” again, or even when conversing with a young person who thinks you’re too old to understand what they’re going through. It’s a vacant conversation, and no one is getting anything out of it. It’s just mouths moving. You’re not convincing anyone of anything, and the client remains suspicious. Even if a salesperson managed to get a contract this way, he wouldn’t build any sort of lasting relationship. He definitely wouldn’t be “getting” the client. Now consider a conversation that has moved you. Your entire facial expression changes as it dawns on you that this person with whom you’re speaking seems to see exactly what you’re describing, and that it is important to them, too. The salesperson who is able to master this “gets” the client, and something real and permanent comes out of that. Our continued success depends upon “getting” clients in exactly this way.
“Getting” clients means being able to recreate their vision in your own mind and then demonstrating, with words, that you are both seeing the same thing.
Recreating a client for ourselves means that we have to understand their concerns. We figure this out by asking what concerns them and exploring the answers. Once we have a really good understanding, we listen to their ideas looking through the lens of their concerns. What happens by default is that we listen through the lens of our own concerns. For example, if a salesperson’s concern is What do I have to say to this client to get him to sign today?, he is only listening to the client to figure that out for himself. He actually misses the conversation that is occurring; that is, what is important to the client. Consistently successful salespeople, as opposed to temporarily lucky salespeople, listen for what the client cares about and is hoping for.
That’s the second part of this “getting” business: Not only do we have to “get” clients, but we have to make them feel “gotten.” That’s what generates the trust that builds relationships. When clients feel like you get them, they trust you, and they are infinitely more likely to give you opportunities than if they are leery of you. Of that, you can be sure. Trust allays their fears that signing a contract with us will somehow harm them. They may be concerned that we will waste their time or money, or embarrass them with their own organization by delivering a subpar product or service, or in our industry, screw up the technology that they already have in place. If they believe that we get them, they will feel confident that we’re going to take every precaution not to inadvertently harm them, and that a mess-up is unlikely to happen anyway because we completely understand their concerns.
It might sound something like this: “I heard you say that your concerns are One, Two and Three. Did I miss anything?” The client may say, “Well, I also care about Four, and thinking about it, I really don’t care about Two. As for Three, what you said isn’t exactly what I meant.” The client gives us that clarification, and then we just keep repeating what the client said until we are both satisfied that we are in alignment.
Alignment is another factor I tend to talk a lot about at my organization, and it ties in well with getting the client. Getting the client is about alignment, but it’s solely about us aligning ourselves with them. They don’t have to move an inch, except to give us an opportunity, but we have to entirely change our positions so that we are aligned with their vision. The client does not have to care about our concerns. It would be great if they did, and once in a while, in time, it happens, but it certainly doesn’t happen often. If we waited for clients to care about us, we’d have waited a long time to build up a viable business. Let clients care about their own things and give them invaluable support by caring about those things, too.
Once you get clients, you have a responsibility to continue to work to get them. They will expect you to maintain that sense of “gottenness,” and if you don’t, it shouldn’t come as any surprise when they get angry. If you are and I are having a conversation and you are thrilled that I get you, and then I drop you like a hot potato, you are going to feel used. It’s the same with a sales transaction: If a client signs a contract because you’ve gotten him to believe in you and then he never hears from you again, he’s going to feel had, not gotten. We don’t want to turn him over to the delivery team without so much as a follow-up call. I’d be mad, too! Now, if you’re dealing with a salesperson who doesn’t get you and he turns you over to someone else, you don’t feel so bad, because they didn’t get you to begin with. You’re still looking for someone to get you. But if you’ve gotten someone and the trust you, and you’ve stepped into his world to create great possibilities together, it is your obligation to maintain stewardship of that vision, and that relationship.
All human beings want desperately want to be “gotten.” It feels great when we think that we have been heard and understood. Getting goes even beyond acknowledgment, which in itself is such a helpful tool. When you acknowledge someone, you show him that you get him a little bit, but when you get someone, you show him that you understand what’s important to him, and that you understand the relative priority of those concerns in his mind. It’s a much deeper level of acknowledgement. For example, when you acknowledge a client, you might say, “Okay, I see you that you want Package A and I think that will work for you.” When you get a client, you might say, “Okay, you’re thinking about Package A because it will address three of your main concerns, but I also get that you would love to wow your clients if that were possible. What if we customized something for you that would not only address all of your concerns but that would also impress your clients and your boss to boot?” Getting is the equivalent of saying we understand how important the real stuff is to the client, not just what he thinks he has to settle for based on what appears to be available. Putting your heart into the sales process is, contrary to popular belief, very compatible with using your brain and charisma. Get in there with the client and show him that you get what he really wants!
2. Showing a world of possibilities. Once we’ve gotten this far, it will seem like a whole new world of possibilities has opened up. The client trusts us, so he’s given us license to create possibilities, and since we’ve “gotten” him, we can clearly articulate how we can provide solutions for his concerns. He has allowed us to step into his world with him to create a set of possibilities together. Now we have the opportunity to show him what we can do. These possibilities turn into projects and things that we can do for the client using our products and services to resolve his concerns. We fashion those possibilities into a very exciting vision and then bring it to fruition with our expertise.
The second factor that helps us garner great opportunities is showing possibilities to clients. The possibility set is all of the things that we can do to satisfy the client’s concerns. Once we understand those concerns, the best thing we can do is to turn those into possibilities. To do this successfully, we create an initial sense of clarity about our ideas for future projects; we paint a picture by putting a little bit of high-level definition around what we want to accomplish for them. We don’t have to provide details now because it’s a vision, not a roadmap, at this point. Instead, we continue exchanging information and ideas by repeating the client’s concerns to verify that we are actually fulfilling them.
The process begins like this: The client has some idea or even a total picture of what he wants. He passes that on to you, the salesperson. You receive it, examine it, perhaps add to it, and then return the same or better idea back to him. The client and the salesperson continue this exchange as many times as necessary until both have the same exciting vision. Now, we have an opportunity to create value—we have a vision to deliver.
A business is all about delivering value, and we can only get to that point by creating opportunities to do so. Let’s make it a personal mission to inspire clients to give us those opportunities by demonstrating that we truly “get” them and showing them a whole new world of possibilities.
© 2012 Ralph Dandrea. All rights reserved.